We stage events in all sorts of locations, from the wide open fields of the Hop Farm in Kent, to the walled garden of a family home in north London. Everywhere has its own special qualities and it’s our job to make the most of them, wherever and whatever they are.
Inevitably, every location has its challenges, from parking and access to noise and neighbours. It’s rare that you find a location where everything is just right for the job in hand.
All of which is why it’s been so lovely for us to be working down at Eridge Park in East Sussex this week.
We’ve been the official event consultants there for 4 years, so we’ll admit we’re unduly fond of the place, because of all the memories it holds for us. We have overseen a number of festivals including Forgotten Fields (5000 cap), Playgroup (2000 cap) and Hi Definition Dance festival (15,000 cap).
But it’s not just about all the good times we’ve had there. With the UK’s summer festivals finding ever more esoteric locations (Festival No6’s takeover of the entire village of Portmeirion is one of our favourites), the competition is getting tougher and more interesting, but Eridge always manages to stand its ground.
So what’s so special about Eridge? For one thing, its location is pretty perfect for weekend music events. It’s just outside Royal Tunbridge Wells, with direct rail links to central London taking around 50 minutes. While there has been a move towards ever more remote and secluded locations (End of the Road,Secret Garden Party), we hear time and again how a long journey there, and especially home, can be a spoiler for many festival-goers. Having an urban location is one of the reasons London’s Lovebox has done so well. Without the hassle of camping and driving, everyone can really cut loose. Being close enough to London and all its train connections, but also in rural countryside, Eridge ticks both boxes.
But accessibility is only a small part of what draws us to Eridge.
This is the oldest deer park in England, and even gets a mention in the Domesday Book as belonging to a guy called Odo - William the Conqueror’s brother, no less. There are still thousands of deer on the estate today and much of the land is heavily protected as a Site of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI), because of the wildlife and nature it is home to.
The weight and gravitas of this history embraces you as you enter Eridge, and sits around your shoulders like a deer skin the whole time you’re here. But it’s a timeless feeling of importance, rooted in the landscape it occupies; Eridge isn’t manicured or pompous, or anchored slavishly in the past. It’s just breathtakingly beautiful.
There are over 3,000 acres of parkland, much of which is ancient woods, where giant oaks offer natural shelter. There are also some incredible stripped, bare trees which punctuate the landscape with a kind of natural architecture - some look like they could be straight out of the Nevada desert.
The open spaces are undulating, so you can stand in one of the gentle valleys or copses and be surrounded on all sides by green hills and woodland, creating the feeling of a natural amphitheatre. One copse in particular, the Plantation, is a thing of beauty, especially when it’s lit at night, like a magical fairy forest.
In fact Eridge seems almost to have anticipated its future and carved itself up into these naturally occurring areas that work so well for events and performances. These spaces, marked out by babbling brooks and majestic lines of trees planted centuries ago, mean there’s no need for fencing and artificial boundaries.
There is even a ‘red carpet’ entrance to Eridge - its long and gently winding drive that builds anticipation as you reach the crest of the park before dipping down into the rolling expanse of the park and its lake, with glimpses of Eridge House in the distance.
You’ll be hearing lots more about Eridge soon, as we begin to share details with you about our forthcoming events in 2018.
We were there only last week, on a cold and rainy day in January - a time when the estate should have been at its worst - and yet still it took our breath away.